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Letter to Montien Boonma

Posted by on Wednesday, 4 August, 2010 at 8:00 AM. Filed under: Essays

Navin Rawanchaikul was recently awarded the Thailand’s Silpathorn Award 2010 for his contribution to contemporary art. For those of us familiar with Navin’s campy outfit, this aspect of his work often belie a much more tender side to his practice that affect an emotive connection to the cultural life of his country through kitsch. Like Liew Kung Yu, his practice seems to have adopted the language of kitsch as the language of the people to both provoke the lofty ideals of ‘fine art’ practice and to connect the possibilities of the reflexivity in art to the everyday people.

For the award exhibition, Navin chose to show a new work ‘Please donate your idea to a Silpathorn Artist’ that is based on some of his earlier participatory works where the public is asked to donate ideas to the artist. Accompanying the piece is also a letter he wrote to the late Montien Boonma, whose legacy is still felt by many practicing contemporary artists, not just in Thailand but across Southeast Asia.

We are reproducing the letter here in English and Thai, to share with our readers Navin’s gratitude and thoughts. Many of us continue to ask what can a new generation of Thai artists do in wake of the political crisis in Bangkok. Navin’s letter is a timely response to this question in offering us a glimpse into a practice that was shaped and came of age more than a decade ago during the military coup of 1993. As one of seminal founders of the Chiang Mai Social Installation, he helped shaped a cogent response to the political rift last decade by redefining what public-engaged, relational practices can be. This spirit lives on in his work and in this letter.

Happy reading and congratulations Navin.



Here again the English version of my letter to Montien Boonma. Thank you to comrade Steven Pettifor for editing and sharing ideas over the beers. Thanks all the friends and my families (and extended families) for the great supports. Many thanks to my Navin Production team and our collaborators!


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1 Comment

  1. Sharon Chin says
    06/08/2010 2:17 AM

    Montien Boonma’s work influenced me tremendously throughout university and especially the first two years after that. I have no qualms about saying that my 2004 installation Rise, Rise, Rise was in some ways a homage to him and his ideas.

    Although I never got the chance to meet him, I felt that he taught me a lot just through his works. His art continues to speak to me, like a mentor I can’t see, but who keep I looking to for answers to questions I know have no resolution.

    There is a great stillness in Montien Boonma’s work, but at the same time full of empathy for what it feels like to question, doubt, suffer and just be alive.

    I believe that in whatever context they are shown his (and others) work still have value to teach and provide a space for contemplation, even though they may seem to be used by the State in a hypocritical way to ‘promote peace’.

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